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Shamshir Khani

This is an abridged copy of Firdawsi’s Shahname. It is profusely illustrated with 71 paintings, mostly half a page in size. The manuscript was most likely given to a French dignitary by a Sikh patron. The text of this manuscript alternates between prose and verse, whereas the original Shahname was written entirely in verse.

Accession Number:

Lilly Library, 1652/53 Near Eastern mss Firdawsi Shahnama (LMC 1879)

Author:

(abridgement of) Firdawsi (d. 1020)

Date and Location:

1835, Lahore (Sikh Dynasty)

Binding:

Brown leather original binding with stamped cartouche, with smaller cartouches above and below cut out of leather and painted. There is a painted yellow frame on the front and back covers.

Doublure:

Red Morrocco

Number of Folios:

201 (+2, one later added fly page in front and one in back)

Dimensions of Folios:

29.2 x 17 cm

Dimensions of Written Surface:

19.8 x 9.8 cm

Number of Paintings:

71

Dimensions of Paintings:

varies from 6 x 9 cm to 16.5 x 9.5 cm

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Description

This manuscript includes an abridged version of Firdawsi’s Shahname entitled Shamshir Khani, with a total of 71 illustrations of varying sizes. A dedication in French on folio 1v states that the work was presented to the French army official, Lieutenant General Comte de Rumigny in 1841 by the Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh.

During the Sikh period (1799-1850) a variety of painting styles were being practiced simultaneously in the capital city of Lahore including a Europeanizing style and a Mughal revivalist style. The paintings of this manuscript can be categorized under the latter of these two schools. Despite constituting a revivalist Mughal style though, these paintings also display modernizing adaptations such as the inclusion of Sikh period battle gear and clothing in the compositions.

This abridged version of the Shahname is narrated in prose as well as verse, which can be observed by the interruption of the double columns. The reader is cued to the change also by the occasional words “nazm” (prose) and “beyt” (verse) picked out in red ink throughout the manuscript.

The opening pages are decorated with marginal floral motifs and cloud bands. The text is written in black nastaʿliq script, typical of the Persianate manuscript tradition. Each folio's text is ruled with red, blue, and gold frames with a double paged frame. Each folio is chain-laid and glazed.

Paintings from another manuscript also produced in Lahore in 1838 are published in: Schmitz, Islamic and Indian Manuscripts and Paintings in the Pierpont Morgan Library, figs. 220-253.